A review of the retail banking sector here has recommended that the Government should develop new laws next year to require banks that meet objective criteria to provide reasonable access to cash.

The Retail Banking Review also recommends that pending the development of this Access to Cash legislation, the banks should seek to preserve consumers' and business’ access to cash services at current levels.

The wide ranging report was commissioned by the Government last year, after both Ulster Bank and KBC announced they were leaving the market.

Its most eye-catching recommendations focus on the easing of restrictions on bankers pay, something the Cabinet signed off on earlier today.

But the 218-page report also covers a wide variety of other areas including branches and cash services, climate change, competition, and consumer protection issues.

The report recommends that the Central Bank should include in its revised Consumer Protection Code a requirement for banks to submit assessments about plans to significantly alter services or close branches.

"These assessments should examine the impact on customers, the suitability of alternative service provision arrangements, and the plans for migrating customers to them, especially at-risk customers," the report says.

Once changes are made, the banks will have to carry out an assessment afterwards and rectify any issues that have arisen.

It also suggests that the Central Bank change the rules so that the minimum notice period for significant service changes be increased to four months, and for branch closures and the departure of an institution from the market completely to six months.

The recommendations follow criticism levelled at banks in recent years about changes to cash and branch services.

Last year Bank of Ireland announced it was shutting 88 branches in the Republic of Ireland, while earlier this year AIB did a U-turn on plans to remove cash services from 70 branches, following a public and political outcry.

Customer charters, including service standards, should also have to be produced by all providers of retail banking products and services, the report says.

It also calls for the heads of a bill to be drawn up next year to require ATM operators to be authorised and supervised by the Central Bank.

The review also recommends that preparation of a new National Payments Strategy by 2024 setting out a roadmap for the evolution of the payments system.

Regarding competition, the Retail Banking Review report finds that despite the concentrated nature of the market, there are reasonable levels of competition in most products.

But it highlights the need for close monitoring of the situation by the relevant authorities, the Central Bank and Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, as well as the department itself.

"The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Central Bank should build on existing arrangements and establish closer coordination to share perspectives, information and experience on the orderly functioning of markets, consumer protection and competition in the retail banking sector," the report states.

The review also recommends that the credit union sector develop a strategic plan to allow it compete at a larger scale, something which the Department of Finance supports.

It says the Central Bank should continue to review its authorisation and approvals processes to identify how these might be improved.

The regulator should also be required by law, it claims, to carry out and publish assessments of the costs and benefits of regulations it proposes to make, including considering the potential impact on consumers and fair and sustainable competition.

When it comes to switching, the authors recommend that the department and Central Bank work together to identify measures and initiatives to build consumer and SME knowledge and confidence in the switching process for mortgages and other retail banking products.

In particular it says the Central Bank should conduct a review of the Switching Code for payment accounts as soon as possible after the current mass migration of accounts by Ulster Bank and KBC customers is largely concluded.

"The review should incorporate input from the sector and other stakeholders regarding lessons from the mass migration," it recommends.

When it comes to consumer protection the reports says the department needs to rationalise and simplify the legislation.